Yang Ming Shan

Yang Ming Shan

Monday, January 3, 2011

What Measures Should Be Taken for Humanitarian Intervention: From Rwanda and Burma


One case of humanitarian intervention after cold war could be viewed from genocidal in Rwanda. The incident was happened on 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana of Rwanda and several top government official were killed when their plane was shot down by surface-to-air-missile on its approach to Kigali Airport. Within hours, members of Hutu-dominated government, presidential guard, police, and military started rounding up and executing opposition politicians (Holzgrefe, 2008: 15). The Hutu Majority in Rwanda organized and implemented the mass slaughter of the Tutsi minority. In just 100 days, 800,000 Tutsi were slaughtered (

On the ground at least, the Rwandans were largely left alone by the international community. UN troops withdrew after the murder of 10 soldiers. The day after Habyarima’s death, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) renewed their assault on government forces, and numerous attempts by the United Nation (UN) to negotiate a ceasefire came to nothing ( Humanitarian intervention came up; definitely clear that Rwanda has humanitarian issue. But there was a policy vacuum in Washington and officials who knew what was happening and could have sounded the alarm were more concerned with avoiding risks to their careers than with preventing slaughter in little Rwanda (

In the same time, Burma has been watched by western countries, especially United States (US). Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrested by Junta Militer Burma has associated with the human right abuse. Unrecognized election winning and the arresting of Aung San Suu Kyi’s emergence great critical from western countries in the sake of Human Right and Democracy ( Western countries ask the world, especially ASEAN as region organization of Burma to act towards the human right abuse toward Aung San Suu Kyi by consideration of Burma membership in ASEAN. Hillary Clinton – Foreign Minister of US – asked on Thai television whether ASEAN should kick out the military-ruled member state if it does not release imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi (

Research Question

Starting with the background description of the condition of humanitarian issues in different countries, there was indication on which western countries get involved. On humanitarian intervention’s debating is between humanitarian concern and national interest. There was different commitment and action toward humanitarian issue from different western countries and US, different states with its problem, and different time. Then, the question here is how we distinguish humanitarian intervention from national interest?

Humanitarian Intervention

Vincent (Wheeler and Bellamy, 2001: 472) defined intervention as activity undertaken by a state, a group or an international organization which interferes coercively in the domestic affairs of another state. It is a discrete event having a beginning and an end, and it is aimed at the authority structure of the target state. It is not necessarily lawful of unlawful, but it does break a conventional pattern of international relations. Humanitarian intervention is an act that seeks to intervene to stop a government murdering its own people. Traditionally, intervention has been defined in terms of a coercive breach of the walls of the castle of sovereignty.

In defining humanitarian intervention in this way, deliberately exclude two types of behavior occasionally associated with the term. They are: non-forcible intervention such as the threat or use of economic, diplomatic, or other sanctions; and forcible intervention aimed at protecting or rescuing the intervening state’s own national (Holzgrefe, 2008: 18).

How Humanitarian Issues Came Up

Humanitarian intervention issues rise up in the undeveloped countries. Western countries associated humanitarian intervention with human right abuse. The condition is where citizens of nation do not get their basic right as human. Western views that the problem is depend on its political system. For that, US endorsed democracy system to other nation in the sake of human right. US argue that democracy states guarantee human right of its citizens. US argue that Burma is not democracy state. US endorsed Burma to transform its system into democracy. US thought that the unrecognized of National League for Democracy won in Burma election 1990 was bad precedent in democracy built up. What Junta has done toward democracy climate and Aung San Suu Kyi is human right abuse. For that, US should intervene that problem by suggest the international world, especially ASEAN to press Burma.

In the other hand, what was happened in Rwanda genocide could not be separated from its colonialism history. ( showed that the two ethnic groups actually very similar – they speak the same language inhabit the same areas and follow the same tradition. When the Belgian colonist arrived in 1916, they produced identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity. The Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Not surprisingly, the Tutsis welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbors.

From all above facts, it is able to identify that for Rwanda and Burma’s case could separate from what western countries has done towards those countries. For Rwanda case, colonist Belgian policy in Rwanda, encourage the polarization and revenge in its society. Even though Belgian gave independent to Rwanda, but Belgian from its colonist policy, identify that Rwanda still depend states towards international community. It’s very clear that Belgian policy to distinguish race identity and rights, there will affect the future of Rwanda. Belgian already constructed that situation. Made Rwanda could not build its nation in independent status. With the genocide incident toward Tutsi in Rwanda called the international community and show that western countries could help Rwanda or other nation when they are in internal affairs trouble. Perhaps it is like a “narcism” to build up western image that they role sill needed in international community. In fact, the forcible humanitarian intervention in Rwanda made UN to withdraw its army because of the death of ten armies there. What was happened in Rwanda very clear as humanitarian issue, but the facts spoke that there was small contribution from international community to solve the genocide.

In the other hand, the number of victim and the different point of view about humanitarian issues in Burma got bigger western concern that Rwanda. Even though some states, such as China define Burma problem as its internal problem and do not need to be intervened. Politically, Burma has strategic position for western countries and China. Perhaps, what western could do in Burma as “humanitarian intervention” as their responsibility towards human right abuse, but how about Rwanda? There are still exist factors that will encourage western nation to get involved in humanitarian issues. China strategic plan in Burma could one factor for western countries that worried them. Burma and China relations enough clear to make them worried that China can access Hindia Ocean by Burma and its strategic plan for Burma’s natural resources. The one thing that other nations can do to enter internal affairs and spread its influence is humanitarian issues. How important and urgent the democracy Burma for US and western countries?


The issues of humanitarian intervention in international relations are still on debating. But we can sure that humanitarian intervention has its root in national interest. Both case, Rwanda and Burma could help to explain where and when western countries will take a way for humanitarian intervention. Perhaps, international community does care on human right. But how do they care about humanitarian intervention? States as sovereign actor in international relations still have big role towards international problems. International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) perhaps do “really” care. But, how do INGOs take a way when they do not have sovereignty to intervene. But how do states intervene humanitarian problems when their national interests still exist?



Holzgrefe, J. L. and Keohane, Robert, O. 2008. Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Steve, and Baylis, John. 2001. The Globalization of World Politic: Humanitarian Intervention. 3rd Edition. New York: Princeton University Press.

Electronic Source: Internet

“Hillary Calls on ASEAN to expel Myanmar”, 22 July 2009., Accessed in November 12, 2009. 01.25 pm.

”PM Thailand: ASEAN Tolak Seruan Hillary Keluarkan Myanmar,”, 08 September 2009.

Rwanda: How The Genocide Happened?”. 18 December 2008., Accessed in November 12, 2009. 01.25 pm.

Rwanda Genocide”, 2009. Explore 20th century history. Accessed in November 12, 2009. 01.25 pm.

U.S. Fiddles While Rwanda Burns”., Accessed in November 12, 2009. 01.25 pm.

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